Joe Nuxhall took the idea of never playing a minor league game to the next level.
Nuxhall, a crafty left-handed pitcher in the 1950s and 1960s, famously debuted at age 15 in 1944. That easily made Nuxhall, who suited up for the Cincinnati Reds that day, the youngest player in MLB history, a record he still holds nearly 80 years later.
Just how and why did Nuxhall make his debut at such a young age? Let’s dive into the history books.
Joe Nuxhall came from a baseball family
Born in Hamilton, Ohio, Joe Nuxhall came from a baseball family. His father, Orville, played semipro baseball.
By 1943, World War II depleted baseball’s rosters. All-Stars like Bob Feller, Joe DiMaggio, and Ted Williams all left the diamond to serve in the military.
Teams needed whatever players they could find. With that said, teams brought older players out of retirement or signed players who, if not for the war, wouldn’t be playing for performance reasons.
Teams often courted semipro players, too. That’s how the Reds found Orville Nuxhall.
How did Nuxhall debut so early?
Put simply, the Cincinnati Reds needed bodies. They approached Orville Nuxhall in 1943 and asked him if he wanted to play for them.
Nuxhall had five children, though, and didn’t want to leave them. One of those children was his son, Joe, a 6-foot-2, 190-pound pitcher who was only 14 years old.
Suddenly, the Reds turned their attention to Joe Nuxhall, who officially signed with Cincinnati on Feb. 18, 1944. Although the Reds intended to keep him off the roster until his school year ended that June, they promoted him earlier.
Nuxhall stood with the team on Opening Day that April, but didn’t get into a game until June 10.
The Reds trailed 13-0 when Nuxhall entered the game. Nuxhall immediately forced Cardinals infielder George Fallon to ground out.
Things got worse from there. Nuxhall then allowed two hits, walked five Cardinals hitters, and allowed five runs before manager Bill McKechnie relieved him.
In a 1994 interview with the Associated Press, Nuxhall reflected on his MLB debut.
“I was pitching against seventh-, eighth- and ninth-graders, kids 13 and 14 years old… All of a sudden, I look up and there’s Stan Musial and the likes. It was a very scary situation.”
That was the last time Nuxhall pitched in the majors until 1953. By then, he was 23 and ready to contribute.
Joe Nuxhall became a Cincinnati Reds legend
Joe Nuxhall will always be known as the youngest player in MLB history. He returned in 1952 a grown man and evolved into a very effective pitcher.
From 1952-59, Nuxhall went 83-73 with a 3.92 ERA in 299 games, 176 of which he started. Nuxhall threw 53 completes games,1 12 shutouts, and earned two All-Star nods.
After a few down years, Nuxhall returned to relevance with a 15-8, 2.1 ERA season in 1963. The 35-year-old threw 14 complete games and revived his career.
Nuxhall moved into the broadcast booth after he retired. He called Reds games from 1967-2004.
Nuxhall passed away after a long bout with cancer in 2007, over 63 years after he made an MLB debut that will forever be remembered fondly.
All stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference